How to make “Differentiation” the key to business success.

When you find yourself thinking about whether your business is really unique…really prepared to compete…really positioned to grow and thrive into the future…you can address those thoughts by answering six questions. We call these questions “The Path to Differentiation”.

These questions are all designed to prompt reflection. And introspection. All are designed to get you thinking about positioning your business with more clarity… getting to a more successful path to the future. To plot a course… to stand apart from competitors… to find the growth opportunities that are perfect for your business.

Each of these questions has played a role in hundreds of successful positioning and repositioning assignments I’ve been involved with over the last twenty plus years. That includes companies’ large, medium, and small, or those just starting up.

There is a deeper dive for each of these questions, but here is a summary of what they are and how to answer them.

Question #1: What Business Are You In?

This sounds like a simple question, but has huge implications, depending on how you answer it. When people ask you, “what do you do”, how do you answer?

Are you in the consulting business?

Are you in the manufacturing business?

The communications management business?

The business services industry?

The “right answer” for you will:

  • Create a perception for your customers, employees and vendors that determines what you are “eligible” to sell, make and buy;
  • Determine who is most likely to be in your competitive set (and your customer’s consideration set);
  • Determine whether you are the leading player, a top 3 player or an afterthought in your segment of that business;
  • Guide how you configure your resources and where you make investments.

The most cited example in the history of business was asked this way: “Are you in the railroad business or the transportation business”? Apply this type of questioning to your current industry description and see where you land.

Question #2: Who is your Core Customer…Really?

When we say “core customer”, this isn’t necessarily a list of your customers today… or even your largest customers. This is a description of the customer who sits in your sweet spot. The ones who you serve incredibly well, who most appreciate your offering… and who provide the best opportunity for growth and profit long term.

Question #3: What is Your Unique Point of Difference?

For every successful business, there is that “one thing” for which you are most known. The one thing that you excel at, that others can’t match. Here is an article — a classic one — that captures this sentiment. It is called “Real Unfair Advantages” and it describes how to find that one thing that makes you special and that competitors find nearly impossible to duplicate (think Google’s search algorithm).

Question #4: What are the Trends, What is “In the Air”?

In order to position yourself for the future, you should make a list of trends. What are thought leaders in the industry talking about? What are publishers writing about? What questions do your customers keep bringing up? This question is important to capture how you are positioned to deal with and take advantage of where business is headed.

Question #5: What are the Deep Needs of Your Customer?

When it comes to customer needs, it is easy to default to “lower prices, superior quality, or great service”. What will help you get to a more differentiated strategy is to look deeper. What are the internal issues your core customer faces when they to solve a big problem? What are the chronic problems they face in THEIR industry or lives? What problem would they pay dearly to solve, if you could solve it for them? If you just keep asking “so what does that do for them” after every question… you’ll get to a much more detailed and relevant list of deep needs.

Question #6: What Things Do You Do Really Well?

This question, when dealt with honestly, can have a huge impact on your positioning.

Are you great at manufacturing? Or, do you and your team have outstanding selling skills? Do you get kudos for your creativity, your design and consultative skills?

Another classic phrase is “what are your core competencies”?

In one industry where I’ve historically done a lot of work, the graphic arts industry – (which has been facing retraction and talk of extinction for decades) — there has been a need to evolve and morph. Many have suggested that these companies need to evolve to become a marketing services company. Some printing companies have “communications capabilities” in their DNA. Others are much better at “making things”.

When thinking about your own business, be candid as opposed to optimistic. In the end, the place you land in positioning your business has to be anchored in credibility. You can’t expect the captain of an ocean liner to be a great pilot, just because he carries people over the ocean. But both are worthy professions.

Six questions. The answers — to any one of these questions — have big implications for where you decide to take your business. Here’s hoping you can devote some time to reflect…and react, in your path forward to future success.

For help in charting your path to differentiation and competitive success, please feel free to get in touch.